“Following the April 2010 explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine, one of my most significant challenges was keeping MSHA focused on our overall mission and agenda to advance mine safety,” said Main. “That tragedy clearly identified that more needed to be done to provide miners with a voice in the workplace, and that MSHA needed to more aggressively use its tools under the Mine Act to enforce the law. We began taking actions immediately after the disaster, and we are still continuing to implement a number of initiatives to make mines safer.”
Three months ago, the agency released the results of its internal review into actions leading up to and immediately following the UBB explosion, including recommendations for improving MSHA’s effectiveness. “We are changing how we do business at MSHA,” said Main. To that end, the agency has undertaken a comprehensive review of its policy directive system, as well as a complete overhaul of its coal mine inspectors’ handbook to make it clear and concise. MSHA also is increasing staff training and addressing shortcomings repeatedly identified in several past agency internal reviews.
The enhanced enforcement strategies MSHA is implementing are working, according to Main. During the more than two-year-old impact inspection program, which targets mines with chronic compliance issues, MSHA has conducted 443 inspections, resulting in 7,948 citations, 785 orders and 29 safeguards.
“Overall compliance is improving at these mines,” he said. Violations per inspection hour are down 13% after mines received an initial impact inspection. The significant and substantial, or S&S, violation rate is down 21% and 104(d) withdrawal orders are down 43%. The total lost-time injury rate at these mines is down 13%. “Unfortunately, there are some mine operators that still haven’t gotten the message,” Main said. Main noted also that the agency’s pattern of violations initiative is netting positive results. In a recent review of enforcement data on the 14 mines that received initial potential PoV notices in 2010, the total violation rate at these mines is down 25%, the total S&S violation rate is down 44% and the rate of 104(d) withdrawal orders is down 66%. The lost-time injury rate at these mines has dropped 43%.
In 2011, 37 miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines, the second lowest figure since statistics have been recorded. “As low as those numbers are, we all know that one death is one too many and that mining deaths are preventable,” said Main. “The distance to zero is much shorter than in 1977, when the Mine Act went into effect.”